I started my transition to minimalist running (sans traditional shoes) back in April and wrestled with injuries and setbacks until July. Since July I’ve been able to stay consistent (and injury free!), gradually increasing my mileage from 0.25mi up to where I’m at now: ~4mi with no pain. Well, no pain until I decided to get frisky on Thanksgiving and run 5.5mi, my farthest distance by a lot.
It’s been almost two months since my last update on transitioning to minimalist running and I’m still at it. In fact, after hitting a sort of stride in July, I’ve basically been free of injury, increased my number of runs per month, my mileage, and have actually improved my average time per mile. I’m even faster now, on average, than I was running with “normal” shoes. As with most things though, the numbers can be a little deceiving.
Last week I completed my 20th run without conventional shoes. I’ve been making the transition to minimalist running and to say it hasn’t been easy is a little bit of an understatement. I might go as far as to say that my moral fiber has been put to the test. I started the journey on April 23 using Vibram five-fingers and pretty much up until July, I was plagued with minor injuries and much discomfort. The discomfort I can handle—I knew there would be sore feet, calves, achilles, etc.—but my left calf muscle was swear-out-loud painful on and off through May and June, which kept me from making real progress.
So after my third run, upping my distance a quarter mile, I was feeling pretty good. Took the weekend off and came back on Monday ready to do it again. My body had a different idea. Right off the bat part of my left calf was uncomfortable but I pushed on thinking it would go away. Right after the half-mile mark, it locked up and hurt pretty bad. It didn’t quite feel like a cramp; felt more painful. At least there was more pain than any cramp I’d had in a while.
I limped home pretty frustrated. Everyone saying “take it slow” was echoing in my head and I was pretty frustrated. How much slower can you get than .5 mi every 2-3 days?! Guess my answer was in the pain shooting through my left calf.
I stretched a bunch, took some Advil, and the next day it was better. Still some pain, but at least I could walk without a limp. Did my cross-training workout today with only a little discomfort and think I may give it another go tomorrow. Taking it slow is taking on a whole other meaning for me with this minimalist running.
Got out again today after a good long rest since I was a bit more stiff/sore after run numero dos. Upped the distance a bit to .77 miles and increased speed to just under 7:59/mi. Felt good all-around but at 3/4 mi I definitely felt I should stop. No pain per se, but could feel a limit approaching.
This is a pretty tough exercise for me trying to slowly ramp up miles and curb my urge to be competitive. I have to say it’s been kind of therapeutic to slow down, be patient, and focus on how my body feels—how each muscle and tendon feels—and actually just try and run because I enjoy it. And I’ve realized being back out there, even at just .77 mi, I really have missed it.
My first real minimalist run was today, but this journey began long before today. It started back in December when, after running consistently for a year, my right knee would take no more. I was no “super runner”, but I averaged 30-40 mi./mo. at 7:48/mi. I took a few weeks off, started back up in January (2013), got 4 runs in, then had to stop due to more pain. I started back up a week-and-a-half later and the pain was so severe in my knee, I thought it was going to explode, leaving me in a sad little heap in the road. I limped home defeated.
Today I was reminded of a valuable lesson that somehow I keep forgetting. Actually, it’s not really that I forget, it’s that I get so wrapped up in polishing and perfecting, that I disregard one of the most valuable lessons I’ve been learning my whole life: finish.
I’ve been trying to get slightly more serious about running, and I’ve been a little obsessed with trying to beat a certain time per mile. Since focusing on this goal I have made great improvements. In fact I began to realize that perhaps I wasn’t really pushing myself during my runs before focusing on bettering my time. But at the end of last week through the weekend, I was hit with a stomach “bug” that really took a lot out of me, literally. On Monday I gave myself permission to run a little over 3 miles instead of 4, but I still pushed for an “acceptable” target time. Today was different.
I was committed to running 4 miles before I even started, but in the first half mile I felt tightness in my hamstrings, there was pressure in my chest, and I wondered if I was going to pass out. Maybe I hadn’t drank enough water today? Maybe it was too hot or the air quality was too poor? What if I kicked it on this street, barely into my 30s, running at a mediocre speed? How embarrassing would that be? These were not helpful thoughts to be having. I cleared my head and pushed on.
I got through the first mile in 7:37, almost 15 seconds slower than what I had been running. That was okay I thought, I’ll make up the time. But my body said otherwise. I may as well have been running with weighted flippers on. I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out anymore, but I felt, truly, like shit. Second mile: 7:48. I began to be really disappointed in my inability to catch up to my previous times. Not only was I 30 seconds behind what had become my usual pace, I was slowing down and didn’t feel like I could do much better. My body just wasn’t responding today.
At this point I began to weigh the options. I should just cut it short so I don’t ruin my average I told myself. Maybe if I go all out for just another half mile I can save this thing and quit then. But then it hit me: I committed to 4 miles and maybe today I wasn’t setting any records. Maybe today I wasn’t even meeting my average. Today I was just going to finish and let that be enough.
As I ran through the remaining miles I thought about this process. How many other things in my life were like this? Many. I know it’s all about progress, not perfection, but I constantly lose sight of this. I do finish many things to near perfection, but there are many more things that don’t get done or don’t even get started because I’ve already decided it won’t be good enough before I even start them. Or I get really stressed out or overwhelmed with all the things I’m juggling that I’m trying to complete perfectly.
Though I felt like shit running today I was proud to have just finished what I said I was going to finish. Maybe I could have run a faster time if I had cut it short or just erased the time altogether from my records and chalk it up to illness. My average time per mile today was one of my worst ever, but it was probably one of the most important runs I’ve had in months.